Congress hasn’t formally offered them and the Ukrainian brass says it doesn’t want them but a Ukrainian unit, with help from some retired USAF Warthog pilots, has been secretly training pilots on simulators to fly A-10s in the hopes they will be donated by the US government according to an exclusive story in Time Magazine. “You will see the difference in the number of targets we’d be able to hit. You’d see that in the weakening of their offensive positions,” Alexander Gorgan, the low-level Ukrainian infantry officer spearheading the effort told Time. “And you’d see that in the confidence of our infantry in moving from defense to offense.” Time was granted exclusive access to the top secret facility in July.
As we reported last month, the Air Force floated the idea of donating its fleet of A-10s to Ukraine but Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Defense Minister, dismissed the idea, saying its Air Force would much rather have F-16s. Sak may not have consulted Gorgan and his fellow groundpounders who, like their American counterparts, have a great fondness for the 60-year-old airplane-shaped cannon with its signature BRRRRT sound. For Gorgan it’s personal. I spent some time lying in a field under intense Russian fire imagining what it would be like to hear that cannon.
Gorgan got on the Internet and found two key pillars of his plan. There’s an immense aerial gaming community and a spirited segment devoted to the Warthog. I also found some comments by former US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker and retired Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove, the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe advocating the donation of A-10s to Ukraine. Gorgan managed to get hold of Breedlove to discuss an audacious, perhaps impossible plan.
Gorgan may be a grunt (he’s a lieutenant and 46-year-old Kyiv lawyer and family man), but one of his high school chums is an influential Ukrainian businessman and another is the deputy minister of defense. Together they talked their own government and “foreign allies” into creating a tiny bunker with five off-the-shelf gaming computers with virtual reality goggles and basic panel setup with throttle and stick. The set-up is apparently not that much different from what USAF A-10 pilots use for training.
USAF really wants to get rid of the A-10s but has been consistently blocked by Congress, which instead has approved billions of dollars to upgrade them. But the Ukrainian brass is unsure it wants to be saddled with them for the same reasons the US wants to get rid of them. They are cannon fodder for modern antiaircraft systems and only work in uncontested airspace, which Ukraine is definitely not.
But Gorgan insists he and his secret cadre can make it work and his buddy Oleksandr Polishchuk, the deputy minister, is frantically pushing buttons at his end. The bunker was the first step. “When it comes to the planes, there’s no question we need to start the training well in advance,” Polishchuk told Time. “We don’t yet have the political decision, but there are some political signals that we might get these weapons at some point. For us that means: start training to use them.”